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Union president and minister should get together

Published: Sep 12, 2013

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Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson has led several high-profile actions over the past week intended to pressure the Ministry of Education and its minister, Jerome Fitzgerald, to capitulate to union demands. There have been confrontations between union executives and school security guards, protests and sit-ins.

The union wants two principals removed; it is upset at the transfer of several teachers; and now it has claimed mold and rodent and termite infestation at Uriah McPhee and Stephen Dillet Primary Schools here in New Providence. Teachers at Uriah McPhee and Stephen Dillet staged sit-ins yesterday and the union showed up to voice its concerns. Several frustrated parents pulled their children out of both schools after learning about the sit-ins. Obviously, these parents were not pleased to have to go back for their children in the middle of a work day.

Amid rising tensions with the union, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald, who was out of the country, said yesterday that his ministry will do everything in its power to address teachers’ concerns.

Fitzgerald and Wilson should sit down and have a chat. They seem to be addressing each other through the media. Wilson creates a scene with the television cameras rolling, and Fitzgerald and his ministry respond. Thus far, it does not seem as if any of the issues in dispute have been resolved. It does not seem as if any progress is being made.

For compromise to result both sides have to concede. Wilson must accept that no minister worth his title will capitulate to union demands at the end of a political gun. He would diminish his office if he agrees to everything the union says just because it is acting aggressively. Protests and PR stunts won’t make the minister agree. She should know that. Similarly, Fitzgerald must accept that the union has grievances that should be heard and investigated. Some of these grievances might require ministry responses or policy changes.

The students in the Bahamian public school system have under-performed for years. We need our teachers to be focused on educating these children rather than fighting with the minister and his ministry. Hence, cooler heads must prevail.

Fitzgerald does not want continuous industrial action and Wilson does not want perpetual confrontation. The logical solution now is sober negotiation between the minister, the teachers and their union. The longer this hostility goes on, the more our schools will be disrupted and our children will suffer.


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